Author Steven Blush connects rock ’n’ roll with Jewish experience

Author Steven Blush connects rock ’n’ roll with Jewish experience

Former East Brunswick resident Steven Blush, a self-described “failed musician,” has found success as an author, filmmaker, and show promoter. Photo by Ricky Powell
Former East Brunswick resident Steven Blush, a self-described “failed musician,” has found success as an author, filmmaker, and show promoter. Photo by Ricky Powell

Growing up with one foot in suburban East Brunswick, and the other in the edgy, punk rock scene of Manhattan’s Lower East Side, Steven Blush dreamed of becoming a famous musician. When he realized that would never happen, he embarked on another career, one which ultimately brought him a measure of success in the rock industry.

Now 54 and a resident of New York City, Blush became a journalist and has frequently covered prominent entertainers over the course of his career. He said his publishing goal was to offer insight into what it takes to achieve major stardom and to try to explain “why so many of equal talent fall through the cracks.”

During the past decade, he has written numerous books including: “American Hardcore,” a history of the early ’80s hardcore punk scene; “American Hair Metal,” a visual tribute to big-haired rockers; “.45 Dangerous Minds,” a collection of interviews with some of pop culture’s most notorious personalities; and “Lost Rockers,” an appreciation of many great musicians who never quite made it. 

He also co-produced “American Hardcore,” a documentary based on his book of the same title, that was screened at Sundance and later received theatrical release through Sony Pictures. Currently he has another film, “Lost Rockers,” also based his book, in post-production and is expected to be completed later this year.

It’s something of an unconventional life for a nice Jewish boy from the New Jersey suburbs.

“I became a bar mitzvah at East Brunswick Jewish Center, but I also had this other life,” Blush told NJJN in a phone interview. “My father owned a one-man print shop on Rivington Street, and I would often go into the city with him, so I became familiar with that neighborhood. 

“During my teens, I, like so many other kids, was a fan of rock music.” But not all rock music. He recalls going to see Led Zeppelin at Madison Square Garden and being disappointed. “I found big-arena rock concerts unapproachable,” he explained.

Instead, the future author gravitated toward punk rock artists, many of whom played small clubs, like CBGB and Max’s Kansas City, that were located not far from his father’s shop. Over time, he became aware that many of the stars he idolized were Jewish — although might not discern that from their names.

“Lou Reed, of the Velvet Underground, was born Lewis Allan Reed, but Joey Ramone, of the Ramones, entered life as Jeffrey Ross Hyman, Bob Dylan was Robert Zimmerman,” said Blush. “Gene Simmons, of KISS, was originally Chaim Witz — and he was born in Haifa.”

In recent years, Blush has gigs on the speaking circuit, and one of his topics is the Jewish presence in rock ’n’ roll. This Sunday at 2 p.m., he will bring his expertise to the Jewish Heritage Museum of Monmouth County in Freehold. The topic is “New York Rock and the Jewish Tradition.”

Noting that New York has long been the setting for the dawning of new movements, styles, and genres, Blush said, “The Jewish experience of art, theater, music, fashion, and philosophy has brought a unique character to all these creative realms. In the 20th century, the birth of rock represented a connection between art forms and the city’s socioeconomic, racial, and sexual variants, all with a distinct Jewish flavor.” 

Blush’s lecture and panel discussion tries to break down the rock scene’s half-century connection to Jewish New York, and, he explained, analyze its “distinct subculture through the prism of influences, crosscurrents, and urban distractions.”

According to Blush, many musicians and songwriters rejected much of their traditional Jewish upbringing, “but they still were imbued with Jewish values and cultural leanings — particularly in areas such as politics and art.”

He suggested that a line might almost be traced from Rosa Luxemburg, an activist and Marxist theorist who died in 1919, through Allen Ginsberg, the Beat Generation poet whose poem, “Howl,” railed against capitalism and conformity in the 1950s, to the Beastie Boys (Michael “Mike D” Diamond, Adam “MCA” Yauch, and Adam “Ad-Rock” Horovitz), a group that morphed from hard rock to hip-hop to rap rock. 

In their hit song, “Sabotage,” released in 1994, free speech is described as a “mirage,” and this warning appears: “[O]ur backs are now against the wall, listen all of y’all, it’s a sabotage.”

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